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Microsoft ADK for Windows 8.1 arms IT with Windows deployment tools

Diana Hwang

A new Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit for Windows 8.1 gives administrators the tools they need to deploy the forthcoming Windows update in their environment.

The upcoming System Center Server R2 and the Microsoft Deployment Toolkit, or MDT, 2013 are among several deployment and management tools that Microsoft previously added to IT admin arsenals and which the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) for Windows 8.1 consolidates.

Microsoft had not delivered a strong enterprise message for Windows 8, but the company is now trying to entice enterprise IT to upgrade to Windows 8.1. The new Microsoft ADK should make Windows 8.1 deployment simple and similar to a Windows 7 deployment.

"Microsoft seems to be acknowledging that Windows 8 is not ideally suited to businesses or consumers, and has apparently made a conscious decision to make changes that will make Windows 8 more appealing to corporate environments," said Brien Posey, an IT consultant and contributor to TechTarget.

It is still too early to tell how successful the Microsoft ADK and other tools will be for IT administrators, although discussions at TechEd last week indicated that the company is moving in the right direction. "With Windows 8.1, I plan on reevaluating [the software] and can argue that it's a much easier path to support and deploy," said Brooks Peppin, IT client services technical lead at Compassion International, a nonprofit organization in Colorado Springs. "I don't know if it's a home run, [but] it's getting closer for considering a deployment." Peppin just completed a Windows 7 upgrade, he said, so the move won't be for another year or so.

The specifics of the 8.1 ADK

The Microsoft ADK 8.1 will include the Windows Preinstallation Environment 5.0, User State Migration Tool 6.3, Windows System Image Manager, Deployment Image Servicing and Management, Application Compatibility Toolkit, Volume Activation Management Tool, Windows Performance Toolkit and Windows Assessment Toolkit.

More on Microsoft Windows 8.1

Windows 8 Pro lacks admin features found in Windows 8 Enterprise

Microsoft's faster updates, starting with Windows 8.1, could challenge IT

Upgrades to Windows 8 hampered by lack of app development tools

8 features that make Windows 8 worth considering

VPN alternative DirectAccess gets a boost in Windows 8

How to assemble a Windows 8 migration toolbox

For enterprises launching a Hyper-V client, IT administrators can create a new virtual machine (VM) and choose between generation 1 or generation 2 machines. There will be new Unified Extensible Firmware Interface support for Windows 8.1 VMs.

Windows 8.1 also supports application sideloading. This enables IT to bypass the Windows Store to install enterprise applications and updates to end-user computers. This is important for enterprises that do not want to go through the Windows Store to add or update their own corporate apps.

Enterprises with an enterprise license agreement and Software Assurance (SA) can log into their volume licenses to get their activation key. The key installs once on each machine to permanently enable sideloading on those computers, said Michael Niehaus, senior product marketing manager for the Windows Commercial team, during a Windows 8 deployment session last week at TechEd North America 2013 in New Orleans. If enterprises run out of the product keys, businesses can call Microsoft to add more activation keys, he said. For customers without SA, it costs $30 per key, he added.

However, not all apps can be sideloaded. The main restriction is the need for an AppX file, Niehaus said. Not all third-party vendors provide an AppX file, so Microsoft prefers that users go to the Windows Store. Other vendors will provide the file to end users. Microsoft itself won't provide the AppX file for its own applications, such as Skype, One Note and others at this time. Microsoft has prototypes of update packages that will install updated in-box apps, and hopes to get them out in the "next couple of months," he said.

Microsoft has not decided how to deliver the updates for out-of-the-box apps, as there is a tradeoff among supportability, job accountability and other process-related challenges, Niehaus said.

More on Windows 8.1

Meanwhile, for those IT administrators who have or intend to deploy a Windows To Go USB stick for their end users, enterprise customers will have access to the Windows Store by default in Windows 8.1. Previously, this capability was not available as a default setting because of Windows Store application licensing issues related to the number of hardware devices an app could run on.

One of the changes to Windows 8.1 is the way the operating system handles and processes application updates to "regain" some disk storage space if and when end users install application updates. Windows 8.1 has been engineered to remove older files throughout an end user's computer to be more efficient after an update and return disk space to an end user. The returned disk space varies, however, depending on each machine and applications installed.


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